April 09, 2019
If you’re a parent of a soon-to-be college student, paying for tuition (not to mention room and board, textbooks, and fees) is top of mind. You’ve read the headlines, but to emphasize that you’re not exaggerating things: Over the past 20 years, the cost to attend college has skyrocketed. Recent statistics show that the 2016—17 cost for tuition and fees averaged $34,740 for private colleges and $9,970 for public colleges. And to make things even trickier, college attendance costs have been rising faster than financial aid awards. No wonder many families find themselves struggling to keep up. You’re not alone in having sticker shock.
When it comes to paying college tuition, it’s about getting creative to determine affordability and maximize ways to save. After all, a college degree can be one way to invest in your child’s future—but you’ll also want to safeguard your own. In short, you’ll want to minimize debt while simultaneously protecting your investments.
Here are five unexpected ways to find money for college without having to dip into your own retirement savings, emergency fund, or other assets.
Being efficient saves time and money—and this applies to college too. If your child is planning to attend a school with flat-rate tuition (e.g., tuition is charged for full-time enrollment per semester, rather than per credit hour), consider maxing out the number of credits available each term. This strategy may enable your student to frontload their credits and graduate early.
Advance prep can start as early as high school. If your child has access to advanced placement classes, she can get a jump on graduation requirements before even stepping foot on campus. (But do your due diligence: Make sure each class applies toward graduation requirements for their specific school—and ensure your child can handle the more aggressive course load.)
Community colleges can be a cost-effective way to get a bachelor’s degree, especially if your child plans to transfer to a four-year college after receiving their community college associate’s (or equivalent) degree. Because community colleges are typically less expensive than traditional colleges, this “2+2 program” strategy can save thousands off tuition while still providing access to prestigious universities and a degree from the name-recognized institution.
If your child has enough flexibility in his schedule, working part-time can be a great way to start paying off college expenses while still enrolled. (This cuts down on student loan interest, too!) Even better: Some companies, such as Starbucks, UPS, and Verizon, offer tuition reimbursements for eligible employees, so choosing the right employer may garner even more money for college.
If your child isn’t necessarily sold on the dorm life experience, seeking alternative housing—or working as an on-campus resident assistant (RA)—may be a great way to cut back on college costs. As an RA, your child may qualify for a free room, a reduced-cost meal plan, and/or tuition discounts—while also earning a salary. If being an RA doesn’t appeal, do some research and see whether off-campus housing, such as an apartment or homestay, may be a more cost-effective option than living on campus.
If your child has a strong academic profile, as well as a specific skill set—math prodigy, star athlete, talented musician—look for schools that want her in their student body and will offer money to make her matriculation possible. Speak to your high school’s guidance counselor or attend college fairs to identify the schools that want students like your child as well as those schools that offer generous grants, scholarships, and tuition discount programs for students like her. Be open to schools you may not have heard of. You may be surprised to find one that’s both desirable and affordable.
Finally, remember to include your child in the discussions about paying for college. Research prices and financial aid awards together using tools like the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator and the College Scorecard. By approaching college financing as a team, you’ll all be active investors in making sound decisions for each other, now and in the years to come.
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